Protesters said they targeted Rupert Murdoch‘s UK business because of what they claim to be the denial and trivialisation of climate change at his titles, which include The Sun and The Times.
The action comes as UK temperatures reach record highs.
The Metropolitan Police told Press Gazette they arrested five people at the scene.
In addition to the broken windows at The News Building’s front entrance, activists spray-chalked the words “Tell the truth” and “40 degrees = death” on the pavement in front of the building and pasted Sun front pages about the heatwave onto the walls.
Why is Extinction Rebellion protesting News UK?
A statement from the climate action group said: “This act of nonviolent civil disobedience comes as a response to the media’s coverage of the current heatwave…
“Sections of the media are downplaying the severity of the heatwave, with headlines such as ‘It’s not the end of the world! Just stay cool and carry on’ and ‘Leaps of fun’ splashed across front pages.”
Former Sun and Daily Mail journalist and current Extinction Rebellion activist Steve Tooze said in the statement: “Newspapers that treat a deadly heat wave as an invitation to a fun day on the beach and use it to advance their puerile and divisive culture war nonsense are not newspapers at all.
“They are propaganda sheets for two very rich and evil men. We are no longer prepared to sit at home feeling angry and despairing at the lies and disinformation.”
News UK declined to comment when approached by Press Gazette.
The News Building – sometimes known as “the Baby Shard” in reference to the larger building across the road – is home to much of Murdoch’s UK operation, including The Sun, The Times, Times Radio, Talkradio and TalkTV.
An Extinction Rebellion protester identifying himself as a scientist said in a video posted to the group’s Twitter account: “It’s the hottest day of the year. Temperatures are breaking records in the UK and across the world.
Why are we taking this action against the Murdoch press? A scientist explains pic.twitter.com/pRzt4lOguo
— Extinction Rebellion UK 🌍 (@XRebellionUK) July 19, 2022
“People are dying, and you would hope that newspapers would take responsibility for giving the public information that they need to keep themselves safe.
“News UK have consistently been printing articles like these [gestures to front pages pasted on building wall] of people happy in the sun and women in bikinis and totally making light of the situation.”
A Metropolitan Police spokesperson told Press Gazette: “At approximately 06:40hrs on Tuesday, 19 July, police were alerted to damage caused to a building by protestors in London Bridge, SE1. Officers attended the scene.“Five people have subsequently been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage.”
Sunday Times journalist disputes Extinction Rebellion claims
A Sunday Times journalist, Hannal Al-Othman, disputed on Twitter Extinction Rebellion’s charge that Murdoch’s papers had failed to cover climate change: “It was literally on the front page on Sunday. I wrote it. I included material sent to me by our science editor that said this [is] due to happen more because of climate change.”
It was literally on the front page on Sunday. I wrote it. I included material sent to me by our science editor that said this due to happen more because of climate change. https://t.co/ZfdIGdRrVi pic.twitter.com/LS7B46KZ9a
— Hannah Al-Othman (@HannahAlOthman) July 19, 2022
Historically, most complaints against the Murdoch empire’s climate stance have been directed against his more explicitly denialist overseas properties, in particular Fox News, Sky News Australia and his Australian papers. Murdoch said in an interview with his The Australian newspaper in 2014 that he is “sceptical” of climate change.
However some journalists are among those to have taken issue with reporting of the UK heatwave, as they believe that the contribution of fossil fuels, and an ongoing climate crisis, are being ignored.
Leo Hickman, editor of climate science news website Carbon Brief, told Press Gazette most outlets had covered the heatwave “sensibly” and “sanely” but that, in his opinion, the Daily Mail was the “worst example”.
He argued “they have sought to comment on the heatwave [as part of a] culture war dynamic which is totally irresponsible given the life-threatening potential”.
Hickman said: “The ideological spin [of the Daily Mail] has crossed over into news pages, which is crossing a line…other papers that have traditionally been climate sceptic over the years have generally reported fairly accurately and kept opinions to the comments.”
Carbon Brief’s own research earlier this year found that the number of UK newspaper editorials calling for more action to prevent climate change quadrupled in the three years to 2021, and said right-leaning publications had demonstrated a marked change on the topic.
When asked his opinion on the choices made by some news outlets to illustrate coverage with pictures of women sunbathing in bikinis and families enjoying the beach, Hickman said: “It is irresponsible to suggest it is time for fun…There will be a small percentage of people who are able to cope with the heat but to frame dangerous weather as a moment of fun is woefully misleading.”
He added: “It is lazy, cliche journalism…Academic research into use of imagery has found that visual framing of a news story is just as important as the rest of an article. Pictures of someone licking an ice cream triggers a response that this is positive.”
As well as the heatwave, national news has been dominated by news of the Conservative party leadership contest, with the leading candidates being asked for their views on net zero targets.
Hickman added: “There’s a sad irony…the heatwave is by force of nature making the leadership [candidates] discuss net zero…When someone is weak [in their opinion on climate change] these events highlight how incongruous these views are.
“The debate has moved away from discussing the science of whether it is happening…it is moving to how we can deliver [net zero]. It is slow moving but the media is broadly moving with the public…but there are still outliers.”
The Independent’s managing director Christian Broughton told Press Gazette last year the British media is in its third phase of climate journalism: first, he said, there was a focus on whether to believe scientists, second was about the “nitty gritty” of data and the difference between the impacts of global warming by 1.5 degrees versus 2 degrees, and now news organisations more commonly ask “what are we all going to do about it?”
According to Media and Climate Change Observatory data in May last year, the UK was second for the number of articles published on climate change since 2004 behind only Australia.
In June 2021 an Extinction Rebellion protest outside the Daily Mail’s Northcliffe House headquarters saw 23 people arrested. Protesters had dumped manure outside the Kensington offices alongside signs reading: “Cut the crap.”
And in September 2020, 77 protesters were charged after the group seriously disrupted distribution from the Broxbourne and Knowsley printing plants in Hertfordshire and Merseyside, which print copies of The Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times.
Picture: Screenshot from Extinction Rebellion on Twitter